Persian art and architecture: Parthian and Sassanid Contributions

After the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), there was turmoil in Iran until the rise of the Parthians (c.250 BC). Theirs is essentially a crude art, synthesizing Hellenistic motifs with Iranian forms. Buildings of dressed stone and rubble and brick were decorated with sculpted heads and mural paintings. The larger-than-life-size bronze statue from Shami of a ruler is the most outstanding remaining Parthian monument.

Of far greater artistic importance is the contribution of the Sassanids, who ruled Iran from AD 226 to the middle of the 7th cent. Adapting and expanding previous styles and techniques, they rebuilt the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon. There a great palace with a huge barrel vault was constructed of rubble and brick. Sassanid architecture is decorated with carved stone or stucco reliefs and makes use of colorful stone mosaics. Beautiful gold and silver dishes, bowls, and ewers, often decorated with hunting scenes or animals in high relief, and textiles with symmetrical heraldic designs also remain. The Sassanids recorded their triumphs on immense outdoor rock reliefs scattered throughout Iran, often using the same sites that the Achaemenids had covered with reliefs and inscriptions.

In Afghanistan at Bamian are ruins that show the great impact of Iranian art forms on works from the 4th to the 8th cent. Frescoes and colossal Buddhas adorn Bamian's monasteries, revealing a fusion of Greco-Buddhist and Sassano-Iranian elements.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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